Best Practices – Health-Care Providers

In Canada, medical practitioners are expected to provide ethical and factual advice and counsel, as well as referral to appropriate services or agencies, such as AIDS service organizations.1

Everyone reacts differently to the news of being HIV positive. Some might have a quick, strong, emotional response. Others might go quiet and withdraw. It makes a big difference when service providers are not surprised by the many ways a client deals with this life-changing information.

Informing people of their positive status for the first time

  • show sympathy and do not judge
  • give clients time to absorb the news, and to ask questions
  • if you can, share basic information about anti-retroviral treatment
  • refer clients to AIDS service organizations for more information and ongoing support
  • treat the client like anyone else learning about an important medical condition

Say things like

  • “Many people lead long, healthy and productive lives after HIV-positive test results.”
  • “You are not alone.”
  • “Medical specialists can help you learn about the best ways to take care of yourself.”
  • “There are lots of resources to help manage living positively.”
  • To someone who is pregnant, or a woman who wants to have children – “You can still have a healthy baby.”

Working with HIV-positive women

  • language matters – don’t use words that blame or shame, like promiscuous
  • keep current – and share up-to-date information about HIV and AIDS so that those around you learn not to stigmatize people with HIV out of fear of casual contact
  • notice if family members are isolating HIV-positive relatives
  • look out for signs of physical, emotional, sexual or economic abuse
  • watch for signs of social isolation and depression
  • touch matters – while always respecting boundaries, touch is important (checking symptoms, for example) – too often, people living with HIV are not touched because of others’ fears, even friends and family
  • respect a client’s right to confidentiality


Code of practice

The document What can you do to stop HIV stigma2 includes this example of what a code of practice might look like:

  • We will follow this code of practice and live by it on a daily basis.
  • We will treat people living with HIV with love and give them courage.
  • We will touch people living with HIV and make them feel comfortable.
  • We will use disposable syringes for every patient.
  • We will not show any discrimination to people living with HIV.
  • We will treat all patients equally.
  • We will give people living with HIV good suggestions, courage and ideas to help them live a healthy life.
  • We will not disclose the status of HIV patients to others.
  • We will not organize separate rooms at clinics for HIV patients.
  • We will raise the awareness of our communities on stigma, discrimination and gender-based violence.

More from Shared Health Exchange

1Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
2What can you do to stop HIV stigma, HIV Gender Violence Toolkit, International Center for Research on Women, September 2007